WR Michael Clayton, back at full speed, is able to snatch passes out of the air while weaving through traffic
The first half of Saturday night's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars may have been a defensive showcase, but beyond the box score one could find hints of something good in the making for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense. Specifically, one could find a very encouraging impact made by wide receivers Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton.
They're hardly fodder for ESPN's SportsCenter, but the few splashes Clayton and Galloway made in the first half of Saturday's game affirmed two things: a healthy Clayton is a dangerous Clayton, and Galloway is as sharp – and as fast – as ever.
Exhibit A: On the Bucs' first drive of the game – which resulted in a touchdown – the offense found itself in the dreaded third-and-long scenario at Jacksonville's 35-yard line. It was third-and-12, to be exact, but quarterback Chris Simms found Clayton working the middle of the field and fired a laser to the wideout. Clayton caught the pass in stride, agilely weaving his 6-3 frame through traffic for an 18-yard gain and a first down.
"I really felt good about it," Clayton said of the offense's initial showing. "We came out aggressive and kept the chains moving. That's exactly what we are looking for in our offense."
Exhibit B: Later in the quarter, on a second-and-13 play, Simms took a three-step drop, fired short left to Galloway and watched as the speedster did the rest. In an instant, Galloway had the ball tucked and was by his defender, racing along the sideline for a 26-yard gain on a three-yard pass. It was mid-season form for the veteran who was seeing his first action of the preseason.
"It felt pretty good," Galloway said. "I was excited because this was my first time playing this year. I think it went well, and I'm looking forward to getting ready for next week."
Conclusion: the Galloway-Clayton tandem, together and healthy, could be as good as the Bucs have had in a long time, if ever.
The pair is expected to be a major element in Head Coach Jon Gruden's offense this year, providing Simms with two sure-handed, explosive targets and helping to balance the team's ground game, led by Cadillac Williams. Consequently, the Galloway-Clayton duo is one of the main reasons many believe the Buccaneers offense will finally "catch" up to the vaunted defense, so to speak. It's easy to see why expectations are high. Over the last two seasons, the two wide outs have generated some huge numbers – the only problem is that they haven't come at the same time.
In 2004, and as a rookie, Clayton took the league by storm, catching 80 balls for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. That same year, the team's other new receiver, Joey Galloway (who joined the Bucs via a trade with the Dallas Cowboys), suffered a groin injury that forced him to miss six games. The result was a down year for Galloway, though he did make an impact upon his return. He finished the 2004 season with only 33 catches for 416 yards and five touchdowns.
The following season, Clayton's and Galloway's roles reversed. Battling nagging injuries to his knee, shoulder and toe, Clayton only pulled in 32 passes for 372 yards and no scores – a frustrating sophomore year after his record-setting rookie season. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, Galloway was healthy and responded with a career year that included personal bests for receptions (83) and yards (1,287). He also scored the second-most touchdowns in his career, with 10.
Now, as starting receivers on the Buccaneers, the two are looking to mesh their respective game. If they're successful, they could be roasting secondaries all the way to Miami this February, but Galloway – ever the savvy veteran – is not about to get ahead of himself.
"We still have some work to do," he said. "I caught a couple of short passes, but it was good to get my feet wet. It was the first time Chris and I have played together in a while, so it was good to go out there and do what we did."
And as for Clayton, he's just happy to be at full speed again.
"I really feel good about the way I am catching the ball," Clayton said. "My confidence is 100 percent back. Catching the ball in my hands, it feels natural again as opposed to last year, going through a lot.
"I really feel inside my element and really comfortable."